Collective bargaining has failed. Time for a good old-fashioned court case to decide the future of the National Football League.

After giving the league a last-second ultimatum for financial transparency that went unmet, the NFLPA has officially decertified. Individual players, led by Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, will now launch an antitrust lawsuit at the league and a federal judge will hear the claims of the owners and the players in a court of law.

The league will likely be asked to open their financial books, and before they do that they’ll likely attempt to claim that the decertification of the union is a sham (which it obviously is, but that still doesn’t mean they’ll be successful in proving such a thing).

If the NFLPA was always planning to do this in the eleventh hour, why did they allow fans to believe there’d be a lockout? Why all this “Let Us Play!” crap? For a group that constantly accuses the league of using the public as a pawn in the chess match between the two sides, it sure looks as though DeMaurice Smith and Co. are guilty of doing exactly that in this case.

To boot, the union’s final request for financial transparency in exchange for a deadline extension was clearly nothing more than a ploy for public favour. Smith and his cohorts were well aware that the league wasn’t willing to budge on that issue. But as it stands, they at least look as though they gave things another chance.

The players obviously have a major edge in court because Judge David Doty has continually ruled in the players’ favour in the past, but the owners do have the right to appeal whatever decision Doty makes.

In the meantime, there won’t be free agency and teams won’t communicate with players. You’ll never see a draft get as much attention as this one will, at least until the courts decide whether player movement can take place prior to the two sides “agreeing” on a new collective bargaining agreement.

I hope you’re a hockey, basketball or baseball fan.

Statement from the NFL:

The fastest way to a fair agreement is for both the union and the clubs to continue the mediation process. Unfortunately, the players’ union has notified our office that at 4pm ET it had “decertified” and is walking away from mediation and collective bargaining, presumably to initiate the antitrust litigation it has been threatening to file. In an effort to get a fair agreement now, the clubs offered a deal that would have had no adverse financial impact upon veteran players in the early years and would meet the players’ financial demands in the latter years.

The union left a very good deal on the table. It included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; ensure no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).

The union was offered financial disclosure of audited league and club profitability information that is not even shared with the NFL clubs.

The expanded health and safety rules would include a reduction in offseason programs of five weeks (from 14 to nine) and of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) from 14 to 10; significant reductions in the amount of contact in practices; and other changes.

At a time when thousands of employees are fighting for their collective bargaining rights, this union has chosen to abandon collective bargaining in favor of a sham ‘decertification’ and antitrust litigation. This litigation maneuver is built on the indisputably false premise that the NFLPA has stopped being a union and will merely delay the process of reaching an agreement.

The NFL clubs remain committed to collective bargaining and the federal mediation process until an agreement is reached. The NFL calls on the union to return to negotiations immediately. NFL players, clubs, and fans want an agreement. The only place it can be reached is at the bargaining table.

Statement from the NFLPA (which no longer exists):

The NFL Players Association announced today it has informed the NFL, NFL clubs and other necessary parties that it has renounced its status as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the players of the National Football League.

The NFLPA will move forward as a professional trade association with the mission of supporting the interests and rights of current and former professional football players.